Hamilton County once again froze new work on a $3.2 billion project that will retrofit Cincinnati’s sewers because of a dispute concerning the city’s established bidding requirements. City Council in 2012 passed and in 2013 further adjusted rules that require companies bidding for lucrative sewer contracts to meet specific local hiring and training standards. City Council says the requirements will produce more local jobs, but Hamilton County commissioners argue that the rules favor unions and cost too much for businesses. Councilman Chris Seelbach and Commissioner Chris Monzel were originally working on a compromise, but prospects fell through after City Council rejected the deal. CityBeat covered the conflict in further detail here.
Covington, Ky., is publicly welcoming Pure Romance to the other side of the Ohio River, which could cost Cincinnati and Ohio up to 120 jobs and $100 million in revenue. Pure Romance was initially planning to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati with some tax support from the city and state, but after the state’s tax credit agencies rejected the plan, the company has been getting better offers from out-of-state sources, including Covington. Ohio officials say they denied Pure Romance because the company isn’t part of a target industry such as biotech, energy or logistics, but emails have suggested that the Republican state government is worried about the deal coming off as politically embarrassing because some of Pure Romance’s products include sex toys.
Ohio coal officials repeatedly complained about the state’s water pollution rules to Gov. John Kasich, whose administration then carried on the complaints to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Kasich’s office insists it was just trying to collect “different viewpoints and then work together to challenge each other to do the best job possible,” but environmental advocates say the governor was putting unfair pressure on a state agency just trying to do its job. The conflict might explain why the Ohio EPA’s top water-quality official, George Elmaraghy, was forced to resign after claiming that coal companies are pursuing permits “that may have a negative impact on Ohio streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.”
The tea party-backed pension reform effort on Thursday sued to change ballot language approved by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The lawsuit says the current ballot language is making “conjecture and partisan argumentation” by claiming the pension amendment will force the city to raise taxes, fees or other revenues to cope with stricter requirements for paying back Cincinnati’s $872 million pension liability. If it’s approved by voters, the amendment would effectively privatize the city’s pension system so future city employees, minus police and firefighters, would be required to contribute to and manage an individual 401k-style plan; currently, the city pools city employees’ retirement funds, makes its own contribution and invests the funds through an independent board. CityBeat covered the tea party-backed pension amendment in further detail here.
Hamilton County sheriffs are rolling out a three-phase plan to move homeless squatters out of county buildings and especially the Hamilton County Courthouse, where much of the city’s homeless population has been sleeping and defecating. Sheriffs will first set up bathrooms, such as portable potties, and try to identify the needs of the squatters and whether they should be connected to mental health or other services; during the month of the first phase, homeless people will be allowed to remain in the buildings. Then sheriffs will get more strict and forcibly remove people but still connect them to special services. Finally, the affected buildings will be cleaned up.
An upcoming report will likely place legislators and police and fire officials in conflict over the state’s police and fire pension system. Supporters of the pension system claim it’s financially stable, but a state consultants predicted that an actuarial report will soon show the pension system is failing to make its required commitments and will be unable to play for health care benefits beyond 15 years. Despite the problems, pension officials say they want to avoid more changes until the most recent changes are in place for one year. The most recent reforms will be officially in place for one year on July 2014, but they won’t show up on actuarial reports until late 2015, which means further changes would have to be held off until 2016 at the earliest under pension officials’ suggestion.
A lengthy, scathing report from the state’s independent prison watchdog found skyrocketing violence and drug use, high staff turnover and low staff morale at the Toledo Correctional Institution.
Two private organizations and the city of Cincinnati are working to place 21 bike share stations with 10 bicycles each in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati by spring 2014.
The reason reported mayoral primary results seemed to stall midway through counting: a memory card mix-up. Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Amy Searcy says the memory cards were never in an insecure environment, but some memory cards were locked up and left behind, while others were accidentally taken to a warehouse instead of the Board of Elections.
At four times their usual number, bats are forcing health officials to recommend rabies vaccinations and other disease-avoiding precautions to people in Kenton County in northern Kentucky.
Cincinnati’s largest mall, currently known as Forest Fair Village and previously named Cincinnati Mall, Cincinnati Mills and Forest Fair Mall, is apparently not for sale, despite early reports from The Business Courier.
Social robots can easily replace humans as dogs’ best friend, according to a new study in Animal Recognition.
State Sen. Bill Seitz says he’s working on a bill that would cap how much utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs and eliminate requirements for in-state wind and solar power. But the proposal isn’t completely unique to Ohio, which is just one of many states in which national conservative groups are working to weaken state energy standards.
Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati, told Gongwer
that his bill will keep requirements for utilities to provide 25
percent of their electricity from alternative sources and reduce
customers’ consumption by 22 percent by 2025.
But the other measures will likely weaken renewable energy and efficiency standards set by Ohio’s Clean Energy Law in 2008.
The bill is presumably the result of Seitz’s review of Ohio’s energy rules, which the state senator announced earlier in the year.
FirstEnergy, an Akron-based utility company, says the review is necessary because the regulations impose too many costs. But there’s another major group involved: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Seitz is on the board of directors of ALEC,
a conservative group that’s gone from state to state to push legislation
that typically favors corporate interests.
Some state officials, including Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, reportedly attended ALEC’s 40th annual meeting in Chicago Aug. 7-9.
Just a couple weeks after that meeting, Seitz announced he still intends to rework Ohio’s energy standards.
ALEC previously teamed up with the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that gets much of its funding from oil companies, to write the standard for legislation that pulls back state energy rules. Many of the effort’s backers, particularly at the Heartland Institute, deny man-made global warming, even though scientists are 95 percent certain climate change is influenced by human actions.
ALEC’s efforts have so far failed in every state in which legislation has been proposed, as shown in this map from ThinkProgress:
But Ohio may be the first state to buck that trend if Seitz insists on pushing his review.
A report from advocacy group Environment Ohio found the current energy standards, which require Ohio utility companies get 12.5 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources, have successfully spurred clean
energy projects all around the state, particularly in Cincinnati.
One local example: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 2011 installed solar panels in its parking lot that will generate enough electricity to meet 20 percent of the zoo’s electricity needs and reduce pollution associated with global warming by 1,775 tons annually, according to the report.
But the standards are written in a way that favors in-state sources, which was supposed to ensure that at least half of the renewable energy development spurred by the Clean Energy Law happened in Ohio. A June 2013 ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that the in-state preference is an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause.
Seitz will introduce his bill in the next two weeks.
On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.
RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.
According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers.
In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."
In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.
The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.
In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.
What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.
Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.
Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency.
The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.
Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.
Ohio death row inmate Billy Slagle, who was scheduled to be executed on Aug. 7 was found hanged in his cell on Sunday.
Slagle, who fatally stabbed his neighbor 17 times in 1987, was recently denied clemency by Gov. John Kasich, despite a rare request from prosecutors to have his death sentence commuted to life in prison. CityBeat last week covered the situation here.
The restraining order granted last month to Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, the gay Ohio couple who in July flew to Maryland to officially tie the knot after 20 years of marriage, is set to expire today, meaning the judge overseeing the case must either renew the restraining order or issue a preliminary injunction. Arthur, who suffers from debilitating ALS, a neurological disease, is not expected to live much longer, which is why the two are fighting for their marriage to be recognized in their home state; in the case of Arthur’s death, Obergefell wants to be rightfully listed as his “surviving spouse.”
The first in-vitro hamburger, made of edible beef cells without actually killing a cow, was served today in London. According to food experts, the mouthfeel is similar to a conventional hamburger, but the traditional fatty flavor is still lacking.
A pool of mosquitoes in Dayton's Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark has tested positive for the West Nile virus, the first in the region this season.
Two Pennsylvania children have been prevented from discussing fracking for the rest of their lives under the terms of a gag order issued to their family in a settlement from drilling company Range Resources, who offered the children's family $750,000 to relocate from their fracking-polluted home, where they suffered from "burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches" and other ailments as a result of their proximity to Range's drilling.
It's Shark Week, y'all.
A report released today suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation.
The report from advocacy group Environment Ohio looks at the costs related to “fracking,” an extraction technique that involves pumping millions of gallons of water underground to unlock oil and gas reserves.
Recent technological advancements have spurred a boom in fracking, leading to hundreds of new wells in Ohio and thousands more around the nation.
When oil and gas companies obtain a permit to build a fracking well, they typically have to provide some financial assurance to the state in case something goes wrong. In Ohio, that assurance comes through bonds and specific insurance requirements.
If a well operation is completed without a problem, the cost of the bonds is returned to the operator. If something goes wrong, the company has to fix the mess before it gets its money back.
But Environment Ohio finds companies in Ohio only have to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well. That’s not enough for a company to fear the financial consequences of a disaster, which means it could act recklessly with little disincentive, according to the report.
The report says that could pose a huge cost to taxpayers: Simply reclaiming a well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Actually paying for damages, such as contaminated groundwater and ruined roads, can cost millions.
Under normal circumstances, private and public entities could sue for the damages, but that’s unrealistic if a well operator goes bankrupt or is otherwise unwilling or incapable of paying.
Another potential problem: The bond payments are only held by the state until a well is plugged and the site is reclaimed to the satisfaction of state operators. That doesn’t account for health and environmental damages that can surface after a drilling operation ends, according to the report.
The issues are further compounded by loopholes, which allow companies to avoid bonding requirements altogether if they prove they hold a certain amount of in-state assets. Environment Ohio calls it “an exceedingly easy test to meet.”
In what it calls “common sense” reforms, Environment Ohio says the state should impose more assurances for longer periods of time. The organization favorably cites other states that require $250,000 in upfront bonds — much higher than Ohio’s $5,000. For companies, that would mean a much higher financial hurdle when taking on a fracking project, but the high cost could provide a powerful incentive to avoid dangerous risks.
The report also finds that insurance requirements in the state are weak, with operators required to fulfill a $5 million liability cap regardless of whether they’re running one well or 100.
The organization recommends Ohio work to build stricter financial and regulatory safeguards.
“At a minimum, Ohio needs an adequate severance tax to fund impacts on communities and provide a cushion for long-term risk management,” said Wendy Patton, director at left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement released by Environment Ohio.
An oil and gas severance tax was suggested by Republican
Gov. John Kasich to pay for income tax cuts, but Republican legislators
rejected the proposal.
The report’s findings were not exclusive to Ohio. It also found issues and suggested solutions for other states and the federal government, including a similar call for stronger bonding requirements on federal lands.
CityBeat covered the fracking boom and its effects on Ohio in further detail here.
Construction to renovate the former IGA in Clifton's Gaslight district will come to a halt soon, and the future for the building remains uncertain; contractors told the Enquirer they'd finish working on the roof and then pull off the project. Steve Goessling, who purchased the property when it was vacated two years ago, says he plans on continuing to build out the building, but he doesn't have the $4.1 million he needs to make it happen. He recently hired Cassidy Turley to market the property to higher-end grocery chains.
It’s Monday, the most un-fun, unhappy day of the week. But smile: Here are 18 signs you’re doing better than you think.
The attorney general for the state of Missouri, Chris Koster, is talking about bringing back the use of gas chambers on death row inmates because he's worried about the state running out of lethal injection drugs.
Cincinnati had an entire month's worth of rainfall over the past week — 3.75 inches as of Sunday. The norm for July is 3.76 inches.
A near-record algae bloom is ensconcing the popular beaches of a coastal Chinese city with thick, bright green “sea lettuce,” as the locals call it. It’s not harmful to humans, but it does suffocate the marine life and kind of scares away tourists.
Two men with HIV now appear to now be virus-free after they received stem-cell transplants to treat their lymphoma.
Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute combed through 18,000 hours of deep-sea video footage and found the ocean seafloor around Monterey Bay is covered in trash.
Monsanto, a large corporation with a self-described focus of “producing more, conserving more and improving lives," focuses on innovation in agricultural production and
claims to have “an eye on the future.” Included in their Sustainable Yield
Initiative of 2008 are the benefits of biotechnology, or the genetic
modification of farmed products. The March Against Monsanto will be held to
combat this process, as well as other practices like Monsanto’s efforts to
overturn European Union regulation on obligatory labeling. The march’s primary
organizer, Tami Monroe Canal, says she started the movement because she
was concerned for her daughters’ lives.
“I feel Monsanto threatens their generation’s health, fertility and longevity,” she explains. “I couldn’t sit by idly, waiting for someone else to do something.”
A precursor meeting announcement for
the Cincinnati march emphasizes that this movement is not a “fist waving”
event. Says the Cincinnati organizer Dana Haan, “It is a peaceful yet assertive demonstration in which we evoke public
awareness of what is happening with Monsanto and our food and the future of
Organizers throughout the United States are calling on participants to bring handouts that explain GMO processes in fact form, with “no slandering, no opinions or paper — just facts.” March participants are striving to prove that the genetic modification of foods is more detrimental than beneficial to individual health, citing studies conducted on GMOs that suggest the presence of pesticides in some modified products, as well as evidence that consumption of GMOs leads to cancer, infertility and birth defects.
With more than 100,000 likes on Facebook and an event list ranging from Boulder, Colo., to Cairo, Egypt, support for the March Against Monsanto has skyrocketed since its inception in February of this year. Advocating not only an end to GMOs but also various solutions for achieving this goal, March leaders assert that they will continue to expose Monsanto’s secrets, “taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.”
Correction: This story originally gave the wrong location and time in the sub-headline.
With a set of initiatives unanimously approved last week, City Council is looking to join the state in combating Cincinnati’s human trafficking problem. The initiatives would evaluate local courts’ practices in human trafficking and prostitution cases and study the need for more surveillance cameras and streetlights at West McMicken Avenue, a notorious prostitution hotspot. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who spearheaded the initiatives, says the West McMicken Avenue study will serve as a pilot program that could eventually branch out to other prostitution hotspots in Cincinnati, including Lower Price Hill and Camp Washington.
Medicare data released yesterday revealed charges and payments can vary by thousands of dollars depending on the hospital, including in Cincinnati. Health care advocates and experts attribute the price disparity to the lack of transparency in the health care system, which allows hospitals to set prices without worrying about typical market checks. CityBeat previously covered the lack of health care price transparency in Ohio here.Duke Energy is the No. 1 utility company polluter in the nation, according to new rankings from Pear Energy. The rankings looked at carbon dioxide emissions, which directly contribute to global warming. Pear Energy is a solar and wind energy company that competes with utility companies like Duke Energy, but the methodology behind the rankings was fairly transparent and based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.
City Council approved form-based code yesterday, which Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls has been working on for years. In a statement, Qualls’ office called form-based code an “innovative alternative to conventional zoning” that will spur development. “Cincinnati now joins hundreds of cities that are using form-based code to build and reinforce walkable places that create value, preserve character and are the bedrock of Cincinnati neighborhoods’ competitive advantage,” Qualls said in the statement.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner is looking to amend the Ohio budget bill to add a $100 million voucher program that would cover preschool for three- and four-year-olds. The details of the program are so far unclear, but Lehner said she might put most of the funding on the second year of the biennium budget to give the state time to prepare proper preschool programs. If the amendment proceeded, it would join recent efforts in Cincinnati to open up early education programs to low- and middle-income families. CityBeat covered the local efforts and many benefits of quality preschool here.
Gov. John Kasich says he would back a ballot initiative for a mostly federally funded Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next decade. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in further detail here.
Policy Matters Ohio released a lengthy report yesterday detailing how the state could move towards clean energy and electric cars and calling for more state incentives for clean energy. The report praises Cincinnati in particular for using municipal policies to build local clean energy and keep energy jobs in the city.
The last tenant at Tower Place Mall is moving out.
Scientists are working on a microchip that could be implanted into the brain to restore memories.
They also found proof that seafloor bacteria ate radioactive supernova dust.
Remember when we blogged a couple of weeks ago about how Greater Cincinnati has some of the worst air pollution in the nation? Yep, the American Lung Association's report, "State of the Air," gave us an "F" for ozone pollution, a "D" for 24-hour particle pollution and a "fail" for year-round particle pollution. That put us at the 10th worst spot in the country for year-round particle pollution and 14th worst for ozone pollution.
Solar and wind energy provider Pear Energy, which currently operates in all 50 states, released yesterday its "Dirty Dozen" compilation, a list of the 12 utility providers emitting the greatest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a type of greenhouse gas. CO2 emissions, of course, are the gunk released into our atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels like gas, coal or oil. Excess CO2 in our atmosphere is directly linked to global warming.
Coming from a company that wants to sell you energy itself, it's good to approach the list with a little skepticism, but the methodology seems transparent; according to the website, all rankings were determined by total CO2 emissions in 2010 of power producers with retail operations that have carbon intensities above the national average emissions rate (stats were sourced from Environmental Protection Agency data).
While Duke Energy was pinpointed as the nation's worst offender, several other Ohio energy providers also earned accolades, including American Electric Power (No. 2), NRG (No. 8) and First Energy (No. 11).
First Energy is the utility provider that in 2012 partnered with Duke Energy locally to bring Cincinnati an electric aggregation program, allegedly useful for both lowering electricity rates and increasing use of renewable energy sources with group buying power. Last month, CityBeat covered allegations that First Energy was focused on weakening energy efficiency standards under Ohio's Clean Energy Law, supposedly to protect prices from shooting up for its customers.